In 1917, Europe was embroiled in the first World War and Europeans were confronted with pain and horror on a level they had never experienced before. The artistic community in Europe searched for a way to respond to what was going on around them, but many artists found it difficult or impossible to work during this period as they faced shortages of supplies, military conscription, or being forced to flee their homes to remain alive. In The Netherlands, the situation was somewhat different as Holland remained neutral throughout the conflict, but the artists there still struggled to find a way to respond artistically.
This struggle caused a group of artists and architects, led by Theo van Doesburg and including Bart van der Leck, Piet Mondrian, and Gerrit Rietveld, to join together and find a new way of communicating through their work. Thus, they founded the De Stijl movement (pronounced: duh style, in Dutch).
De Stijl, or neoplasticism, sought to show beauty in a way that was universal and free from cultural constructs and expectations. They wanted to reduce beauty to its purest and most basic forms and so they created a new artistic language that used a limited pallet of primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), an equally limited range of tones (white, black, and grey), and only horizontal or vertical lines. Western art before De Stijl was almost always representational. Sculptures and paintings could be abstract, but they still represented something. De Stijl rejected representationalism, and created art that was of nothing. Modern art exists as it does today, to a great extent, because of the De Stijl movement. No other artistic movement of the 20th century can claim this level of impact. It changed western art forever and more importantly it changed the way we all look at the world.
Neoplasticism had very strict rules. Its simplicity made this necessary, or it would quickly devolve into something it wasn’t supposed to be. These rules, while highly restrictive (Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian ended their long and close friendship because van Doesburg started including diagonal lines in his paintings) they also allowed De Stijl to become one of the most successful and recognizable art movements in history. Even today it is not unusual to see neoplasticism used in marketing, architecture, and decorative motifs. This level of ubiquity comes at a cost, however, as the work of De Stijl artists is often seen as too common or less important than the work of other artists. The pieces in the Violations series were created to challenge these ideas.
The pieces in the Violations series are all based in the concepts and ideas of the De Stijl movement. They acknowledge the rules of neoplasticism and the reasons these rules were created. They also reflect the old adage that rules are meant to be broken. In these images you will see representational elements, and colors and gradients of tone not used by artists like Mondrian. In some of the pieces, the forms of neoplasticism are reduced even further than the De Stijl artists dared to do. These pieces bend and break and violate the rules of De Stijl. They offer a somewhat different perspective on the world than De Stijl intended, but they still fit into the mold that was created back in 1917. They are part tribute and part insult. Hopefully, they can help create a greater understanding of the most important artistic movement of the 20th century.